The Next Disruptive Innovation in Buildings


Sustaining innovation makes an existing process or product better: cheaper, easier to manufacture, more powerful, more efficient… The electric light bulb is an excellent example: incandescent bulbs have been mostly displaced by CFLs, which are on their way to being displaced by LED bulbs. Sustaining innovation has created a more efficient bulb, but the market for electric bulbs remains unchanged and no new markets have been created as a result of this innovation. Disruptive innovation, by definition, creates new markets and disrupts existing industries. 94% of commercial buildings in the U.S. cannot afford advanced building technology, such as a building automation system. If we really want cities around the world to get closer to climate neutrality, we would need real disruptive innovation. We would need to bring advanced building technology to the 94% of buildings which cannot afford it today.

In most buildings as much as 50% of the total consumption is discretionary use: which means that even if we deploy the best building automation technology we can only automate half of the loads. The rest is driven by personal choices we make every day.

The building technology industry has not seen a single disruptive innovation for more than a century. The first disruptive innovation in building technology happened in 1851, when Otis invented the first safe elevator. After Otis comes up with a mechanism to safely lock the elevator should the ropes snap, the entire building industry undergoes a radical change: we begin building vertically and the landscape of our cities was forever changed. A single technological innovation completely changes the way we build and occupy our cities.

The second, and last, disruptive innovation in building technology happens 30 years later. Today all of us know what a thermostat is. But in 1883 it was a real breakthrough. This invention marks the birth of the building automation industry.

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